I suggested we could think of the deficit as a metaphor: a powerful use of it can be stimulating and help to move things along, but if you stretch it to breaking point you’ll lose credibility and have to spend even longer getting back to where you started.
More seriously (and more partisan), here’s one that occurred to me this morning:
Unlike the Tories’ laissez-faire attitude, during this recession Labour decided the government should take a bullet to protect the economy. To prevent the worst of the harm to businesses and households, we let government borrowing take the strain.
Letting the deficit rise was the right thing to do. In normal times, this much borrowing would be a terrible idea, but a global financial crisis is not normal times. And it worked: unemployment and repossessions have not been nearly as bad as in previous recessions. The Tories, on the other hand, wanted us to gut the public sector at the same time as the private sector was taking hits, and they opposed the VAT cut that helped people struggling to make ends meet.
So the government took a bullet, and now we have to repair the harm to the public finances. There are two ways we can cope with this bullet-wound: cut off the injured limb and hobble on as best we can, or stop the bleeding and then take time to heal and grow back to strength. The first option is quick but brutal, causing irreparable damage. The second is less dramatic, but it allows us a fuller recovery.
Does this have potential? Maybe not – it’s a bit all-or-nothing – but I’ve been blogging so little lately I figured I owed you something.
I’ve also got a half-formed idea about the dangers of slamming on the brakes when your car’s skidding, even though it seems the instinctive thing to do – instead, you have to slow gradually and turn the wheel back steadily. Anyone’s welcome to develop that one, but I’m too clueless a driver to do it myself.
(The standard political metaphor for deficits is the ‘black hole’, the most destructive thing in the universe, swallowing anything that comes near it and becoming all the more powerful in the process. If it hadn’t been cheapened by overuse to describe any old gap in the public finances, then it would have been perfect for those warning of a catastrophic debt spiral.)